More Reaction To Ontario Racing's Five-Year Plan

Published: October 15, 2013 03:21 pm EDT

Mainstream media outlets have given last week’s Ontario horse racing announcement plenty of ink, and transition panel member John Snobelen has also penned a column on the announcement over the course of the weekend.

On Friday, October 11, the Ontario Liberal Government released its five-year plan for a ‘sustainable horse racing industry in the province’ based on the final Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel report. The province will provide up to $400-million over five years to sustain a wide range of racing opportunities that are supported by strong business plans, including branding and marketing, responsible gambling, the Horse Improvement Program, animal welfare and business planning. To view a copy of the government’s announcement, click here.

To read some of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s comments on the plan, and to watch video of the announcement, click here.

Ontario horse racing industry groups issued a number of responses to the announcement. Official responses were issued by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., the Woodbine Entertainment Group, Lambton-Kent-Middlesex PC MPP Monte McNaughton, the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association and the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association. To read the responses which came from those groups, click here.

During the course of the weekend, Ontario Horse Racing Transition Panel Member John Snobelen penned a column in the Toronto Sun. In part, Snobelen wrote, “So horse racing is alive and well in Ontario. Better yet, the foundation of a long-term partnership between the government and the horse racing industry has been created,” adding, “Now the industry can turn its attention to attracting a new generation of fans.

Multiple mainstream media outlets have run stories surrounding the Province’s announcement for the horse racing industry.

An article by the CBC has quoted Grand River Raceway’s Dr. Ted Clarke as saying that the fact that the plan is five years in duration is “a significant benefit,” but he also explained that “it's difficult at this stage to know for sure how the mechanism is going to work and how each track will relate to it."

A few articles focused on the way the decision will impact racing in the Essex County / Lakeshore area. Lakeshore Horse Raceway President Mark Williams has been quoted as saying that the centralized approach to racing in southwestern Ontario did not come as much of a surprise. "I can't say we're shocked, but it's disheartening to say the least," Williams was quoted as saying. "They've left us and places like Dresden, Sarnia and other tracks not in central Ontario completely out." The report also quoted Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain as saying, "It's going to be awfully tough on efforts in the Leamington area to get racing back." Ontario Harness Horse Association General Manager Brian Tropea also was quoted as saying that racing interests in the area are not going to give up their fight. "This is a huge area of the province with support for horse racing and we're hopeful it will be on the map we're going to continue knocking on their door," Tropea said.

Tropea was also quoted in another story by the CBC. In the report, Tropea stated that even though a five-year, $400-million transitional plan has been announced, it still “represents a significant reduction in funding,” and that "the biggest part of the puzzle is the integration with the OLG. We need to work to generate more revenue for the industry to be competitive with the places in the U.S. that have adopted the same type of program that Ontario has just ended."

In terms of Sudbury Downs, the track’s secretary of racing, Brent Powell, told The Sudbury Star that the track didn’t know what to make of the plan when it was announced. “There's really not much said other than a number,” Powell was quoted as saying. “They haven't outlined who gets what, what racetracks. We have to wait for a detailed report.” Powell went on to add that “there's more to (the plan)” and that he is sure “the racetrack operators will get their simplified version of it.”

Sudbury-area MPP France Gelinas told the CBC that the plan’s focus is upsetting. The CBC’s report explains that Sudbury Downs’ operators have the ability to present a business plan for the funding of future racing at the track, although the transitional plan’s focus is on southwestern Ontario. “I won’t lie to you, it’s pretty hard to take,” Gelinas was quoted as saying. “You feel like the cheap cousin who’s not invited to the wedding.”

Clinton Raceway was one of the tracks that was outlined as being part of the five-year plan, and the track’s manager, Ian Fleming, discussed the inclusion with Huron News Now. “I think for Clinton it’s a good day,” Fleming was quoted as saying. “Our future was sitting up in the air. There hasn’t been that much certainty for a year and a half. It gives us a good starting point to work for five years and not living day to day.”

An article by Peterborough This Week has quoted OHHA representative Dave Gibson as saying that the announcement of the five-year plan is good news for harness racing participants in the Peterborough area. Kawartha Downs is another one of the tracks that was left out of the plan, but Kawartha has the ability to draft up a business proposal and present it for funding consideration. "I think it certainly bodes well for everyone in the horse racing industry that the sun is going to come up tomorrow and we're going to have a place to race," Gibson was quoted as saying. The report also explains how Kawartha could soon become a not-for-profit raceway.

A report by the London Free Press has quoted Western Fair District chief executive Hugh Mitchell as saying that the deal presents a “clean slate” for The Raceway at the Western Fair District and that “the table has been set for us.” Mitchell went on to say, “We’re in the hotbed of harness racing here in southwestern Ontario and there’s a long tradition of racing here at Western Fair and that tradition will continue on.”

The same report by the London Free Press has also quoted Hiawatha Horse Park owner Jim Henderson as saying that “I wouldn’t have tried to race a year ago if I knew everything was changing like this,” adding that the track “spent a lot of money in the past two years to keep everything running.”

Hanover Raceway General Manager Gord Dougan has commented on the news that his track is included in the government’s five-year plan. “We got some news, we didn't get a lot of information,” Dougan was quoted as saying in an article by the Owen Sound Sun Times. “I don't have a lot of the meat and potatoes yet of what it actually means.” Dougan said that his track will be looking to acquire as many race dates as it possibly can. “Certainly I'll be asking for any that are not used up, for Hanover, because we need more than a 15-day race season,” he said. The article stated that Dougan is not necessarily confident that will happen, but he’s “determined.”

A pair of reports out of the Ottawa area state that officials with the Rideau Carleton Raceway are pleased with news of the five-year plan, even though the track was not specifically outlined. “I feel very optimistic that, though it’s not what we had before the (slots-at-racetrack) program was cancelled, it definitely will sustain racing at Rideau and provide our patrons and the horsemen the critical mass that’s required to maintain a program,” RCR spokesman Alex Lawryk was quoted as saying in an article by the Ottawa Citizen. A report by The Globe and Mail has quoted John MacMillan of the National Capital Region Harness Horse Association as saying that the plan “is simply treading water or a potential bridge to survival for horsepeople,” adding that the plan “is not financial viability.”

NDP MPP Taras Natyshak and PC MPP Randy Pettapiece have each characterized the Liberals’ five-year plan as a ‘Band-Aid solution’ to a problem they created.

Officials with the Fort Erie Race Track for thoroughbreds were less than enthused with the details of the plan, as the historic border oval did not make the cut. Although, officials with the picturesque raceway still have the ability to present a proposal for race dates and purse funding. There has been talk of more of a specialty, boutique meet, something similar to what has been successful at Monmouth Racetrack in New Jersey, but Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium head Jim Thibert has explained how that scenario is easier said than done. Thibert bluntly stated, “We can’t do it,” said Thibert, who noted it costs roughly $6-million just to open the doors at the track each year.

(With files from the Toronto Sun, the CBC, the Windsor Star, The Sudbury Star, Huron News Now, Peterborough This Week, the London Free Press, Owen Sound Sun Times, the Ottawa Citizen, The Globe and Mail, and

(Note - In an effort to consolidate comments on topics, if you wish to voice your opinion on the five-year plan, please do so by clicking here.)